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Behind the scenes: WHQR's Kelly Kenoyer and Mattie Holloway discussing researching zoning and race in Wilmington

Kelly Kenoyer
Mattie Holloway and Kelly Kenoyer (not pictured) hit the books to learn more about the intersection of zoning and segregation in Wilmington.

While working on the upcoming edition of The Newsroom, reporter Kelly Kenoyer and intern Mattie Holloway dug deep into research on the history of segregation, gentrification, and zoning in Wilmington. Mattie joins Kelly here to talk about that work.

Kelly Kenoyer: So just to start, can we talk a little bit about what the public housing was like in Wilmington in the late 30s and the 40s?

Mattie Holloway: Yeah, so, before the public housing, a lot of the black housing in Wilmington was substandard, so a lot of them didn’t have functioning bathrooms, things like that. So public housing was put in for a couple of reasons, mainly for either shipyard workers, war officers, or quote-unquote slum housing to kind of make up for the substandard housing.

KK: Were there any like, specific projects you want to highlight?

MH: Yeah, so there were a couple. And I will note that they were segregated. So you had Robert T. Taylor homes, which were Black. You had Hillcrest, which was black housing, mainly for war officers or shipyard workers. You also have Lake Forest, which was a white project, similar to Hillcrest, but just for whites instead. And then Moffett Village was also put in for shipyard workers, it was the biggest one. And even though it had both white and blacks there, it was still segregated. There was a cafeteria in the center, one for each. And the infirmaries were separated as well.

KK: That was pretty much the federal policy at the time, I think. This is Jan Davidson, the historian talking about that.

JD: The federal government, in general has let states follow their local traditions when it comes to race relations. That happened throughout the great depression as well, where you ended up with, you know, segregated programs because the feds weren’t willing to enforce integrated systems into the south, they thought they couldn’t- they wouldn’t be able to pass.

KK: So yeah, one thing that I also read in the color of law is that in other states and in other cities, there were even cases where public housing would be put into previously integrated neighborhoods, and it would become more segregated as a result of that. So they would put an entirely black public housing development into an integrated neighborhood. And it would force white families to leave because they were no longer able to sell their homes to other white people, because of lending practices that prevented any loans from going out in black neighborhoods. Right. I wanted to ask as well, since some of these public housing units were made specifically for black people, did they get to own that housing at any point, like some white people were able to?

MH: They did not. Even though there were some efforts by black corporations at the time to own these housing projects. I'll speak on Hillcrest specifically. There was a Hillcrest veteran Housing Corporation, which was mainly made up by black veterans at the time who wanted to buy this housing. And in the newspaper clippings, we read some of the black doctors at the time were like, this would be great, you know, we can own our own things. But it was given over to the Wilmington Housing Authority instead because the city thought that they were in quote-unquote, better financial standing. So we can infer what that means. But yeah, so even though, obviously, these were communities put in place for black people, it was not black-owned.

KK: That's interesting.

MH: Yeah.

KK: What did you think about going through all of these old documents at the library?

MH: It was interesting, because we saw areas that are still here today. Obviously, they don't look exactly the same. But you know, some of the places are still either primarily black or primarily white. And we see that in the rest of the research that we did.

KK: Thank you so much, Mattie.

MH: Not a problem.